By Ken Krayeske • 12:50 AM EST
Rocket Hole - a 2002 photograph from Lebanon by Boston-based photographer Rania Matar. The rocket hole is from the Lebanese Civil War.
T-minus 30 days and counting until 2009. T-minus 24 days and counting until X-Mas. T-minus 18 days and counting until exams are complete, and I have only three semesters left in Law School.
I live for countdowns. Advent calendars, page a day calendars, all subtle ways to mark the passage of time. When time does pass, I hope to fill it with interesting activities.
For instance, this past Saturday (t-plus two days ago?) I hit the Tara Donovan show at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, as I mentioned I might. Her work is stunning - plastic and processed materials dropped into recurring patterns.
She mimics nature's math, like the Fibonacci series writ large. Imagine dozens of stacks of a clear plastic drink cups stacked up in a 20 by 30 foot rectangle, so that the millions of cups look like snow drifts. Or styrofoam cups fastened together to resemble clouds, hanging from the ceiling.
The best part of the exhibit wasn't the optical illusion created by millions of drinking straws stacked to make an undulating 25-foot tall honey-comb wall hanging. It was the people watching. Saturday at Boston's ICA was Play Date - bring the kids.
Listening to parents dialgoue with their children about art is as interesting as the art itself - parenting, I imagine, is more art than science.
Parents took the opportunity to check out not only Donovan, but the ICA's permanent collection and the four finalists of the 2008 Foster Prize, an annual award for Boston's most promising artist.
My favorite Foster finalist was Rania Matar. Her exhibit featured images from Lebanon, some before the Israeli invasion in 2006, and some after the destruction wrought by the bombing.
Her photographs - both black and white and color - capture daily life. While some document the comings and goings of every day people, other detail minutely the wreckage from the Israeli bombardment - scraps of papers, doll parts, and broken dishes. The captions ignore the political context from which the damage arose.
I loved "Rocket Hole" (posted above) from 2002, a child's sandal is barely visible under a gaping hole in a wall, caused by an artillery shell. The wall is pockmarked by bullet holes. Through the opening caused by the rocket, Matar reveals architecture across the street.
That artillery fire that created this hole resulted from the Lebanese civil war - an entirely different context from that of the 2006 Israeli military action, the subject of many other photos. Those nuances seemed to be lost on the streams of people flowing by.
I overheard one mother in a tentative voice tell her child that the pictures were from Lebanon. The child repeated "Where are the pictures from?" Pardon me if I think that Americans are ignorant, but I answered the query - the Middle East - because I didn't think, based on the mother's first response, that she had any idea where on God's green earth Lebanon was.
Another father and son examined the photo entitled "Defiant" - a few children around a woman in a south Beirut neighborhood, as she sits in a chair amidst the rubble of a bombed out apartment building, shouting orders or calling out to other kids.
The father tried to explain to the boy that the devastation was caused by war. I could sense - and maybe this is just my projection - but the father was not interested in talking too much more about the realities of war.
I wondered if the dad knew that the U.S. government greenlighted that bombing, that our tax dollars helped finance the demolition of Lebanon - after it worked so hard to rebuild itself after the civil war. Further, I puzzled on how I might explain that to a child. Would you? Should you?
Can you give that much information to a young person? Or do you merely try to help them come to grips with war as a facet of human existence that has always been? What if we don't even understand war - how are we supposed to explain it to the kids?
Do we let them make up their own minds based on the stimulus and information about war that popular culture exposes them to? Matar's images are far more honest than those on television. But I wanted the captions to tell some of the background story, because I guarantee that many people walking through the exhibit can't even find Lebanon on a map.
But then, you might get the Rachel Corrie problem, and have an art gallery refuse to show the work for providing some political background. Can't say anything bad about Israel in this day and age, even if it is telling a news story.
I suppose that's what photographs are for - to illustrate how war is a force that gives us meaning - and let the young people decide for themselves what they see, and how to interpret man's savage inhumanity to man.